Retailer Profile: Frontier Flooring
How many of you have cluttered showrooms? Everything and anything that can be shown to the consumer is right at your—and her—fingertips…buried underneath another pile of samples.
While many will not admit it, this is the state of their business. Whether they are operating out of 1,200 or 50,000 square feet, they have amassed so much clutter they not only confuse the consumer, they confuse themselves.
Growing up in the industry, Frontier Flooring’s Hector Cabrera saw firsthand how many flooring retailers in his Vancouver-based market really have no conception of how to showcase products, or to whom they are showcasing the many flooring options. It is not solely about keeping current with the times, whether through marketing on the Internet, social media or more traditional means. Nor is it about having all the current styles available.
“Flooring is a technical fabric/material,” he explains, “but the transformational role flooring has in the home is huge and I don’t see any other local distributors and players trying to make it a luxury experience. I really don’t understand why so many of their spaces are cluttered despite the amount of very good people out there with a strong network of relationships.”
“We are creating a community experience, not just getting business but connecting with the next generation, as well.”
As with many millennials, Cabrera believes in doing more with less. Although he is not chasing the Internet consumer, he understands social media and how to trend on it—perhaps because of his marketing background. He also understands how to network, which at its core is what social media is truly about.
He has created a showroom which might seem stark to some with its minimal displays and concrete floors. But that same gallery-type feel allows him to readily utilize the space to host networking and educational events for students, artists, designers and other complementary business partners, while at the same time allowing them the opportunity to see a select offering with zero pressure to buy.
Cabrera says the goal is “to make it an interesting and engaging experience” for a large variety of visitors, so Frontier Flooring is top of mind when it comes time for their flooring purchases.
“We host everything from designer cocktail parties to interior design student technical workshops,” he details. “We are creating a community experience, not just getting business but connecting with the next generation, as well.”
“There’s something to be said about that cross-generation of millennials that are influenced by technology, trends, music and social thinking,” Cabrera adds. “They influence and are influenced by everything from marketing to copywriting.”
Learning from example, Cabrera is intimately connected with his community. The Loft building which houses his studio is in the heart of Vancouver’s Mount Pleasant district and is replete with local architects and designers; he is connected with other small business owners, bloggers, fashion designers and entrepreneurs.
“A lot of the time we host events and we don’t get a referral,” he says. “Public relations as a business strategy is greatly underutilized in flooring, but it’s definitely worth the effort.
“The studio allows people to experience flooring,” he explains. “It has been very interesting because once guests go through that strategy, they are not really interested in shopping around or trying to gouge you down on price as they become clients. They are already connected to the product.”
For the five-year-old company, the networking and public relations efforts have been effective. The two-man shop, with another eight people as subcontractors for the installations, is already reaching seven figures in sales.
By understanding his client base, Cabrera is able to offer a highly curated selection geared toward their needs and desires. Even more importantly, he is not afraid to tell a client when their philosophies don’t align with his company’s and they should probably part ways. Taking a cue from Kenny Rogers, he knows when to walk away from a potentially troublesome relationship that might otherwise lead to unrealistic expectations.
It is why he moved the business away from many of the insurance jobs which initially helped sustain it.
“It provides a lot of value for shops in the program,” he explains, “but the nature of the work is not a right fit for us. The focus is just on getting the product in there, and that didn’t align with our passion about material and the consumer experience, seeing the end results and making that connection.”
It was not always the case.
“In the beginning,” Cabrera says, “we didn’t really have a clear idea of who our client was and were open to too many different opportunities. After taking on many different types of projects, it was a year and a half before we realized where we provided value.”
One of the biggest opportunities in Frontier’s luxury retail approach is ensuring consumers are properly educated to avoid failures.
“It’s not about giving everything you can to the client,” he says. “You have to have boundaries. If a client doesn’t have time to visit the showroom or does not want to understand how to set up their project for success, we are not interested.
“The slower approach is better,” Cabrera believes. “Once we began to focus on relationships and business—on being selective with the client as well as the product to determine if it is a good fit for [both sides]—work became more enjoyable and we began to make better connections with our clients.”
Discussing wood and hard surface installations, Cabrera recalls, “Sometimes you get individuals who really do not want to pay for leveling; you must stand your ground and not cut corners just to make the sale. Everyone is happier in the long run and team members do a better job when you take a stand for them.”
Cabrera credits some of his success to lessons learned outside the industry.
“My outside experience made me realize it doesn’t matter what you do,” he says, “it’s how you do it. The values are universal and not specific to any one industry. Align with people on those values and you can become the best at what you do.
“It comes down to knowing what you are talking about and have a clear idea on how to deliver. If you don’t have that backbone, [the experience] is artificial.”